Illinois vs. Arkansas: Odds, Picks, and Predictions (3/16/23) – NCAAB

As the first round of the NCAA Tournament is ready to start and everyone is filling out their bracket picks, one of the always important first round matchup is the 8 vs. 9 game.  This is as 50/50 as the tournament gets in the first round, which leaves a lot of room for either team to come out victorious.  As Illinois faces off against Arkansas in the West region, let’s take a look at this matchup’s betting odds and outcome predictions:  

Illinois vs. Arkansas Predictions

Illinois enters this game as the 9 seed with Arkansas being the 8.  Both teams had higher regular season expectations as both teams fell towards the middle of the pack in their respective conference.  Nonetheless, they find themselves as an NCAA Tournament contender with aspirations to go far.

Illinois fell in the Big Ten Tournament to Penn State and has lost their last 3 out of 4 games.  The biggest problem for the Illini has been their inconsistency and inability to close out games.  They did however, recently win an overtime game against Michigan in a tough battle.  What Illinois does have however, is a great defense.  They are one of the highest ranked teams in defensive efficiency.  It’s their offensive struggles that may cause problems as they shoot poorly from deep.

Arkansas is built quite similarly.  They are very tough defensively and are a great blocking team.  They are great defensively on the inside from rim protecting, and outside to contesting shooters.  The Razorbacks do struggle however on offense, just as the Illini.  They struggle from outside shooting, which has made this team take more inside shots.  Arkansas will need to work the fast break transition often in this game for the type of scoring they want.

These teams’ scoring averages are heavily matched as well.  They each allow approximately 67 points on defense, and average 74 points a game.  The difference maker in this matchup will be which team can make shots go in.

Illinois vs. Arkansas Predictions: Arkansas ML (-135)

I’m taking Arkansas straight up in this matchup, but I do expect a close game that doesn’t make me feel strong about the spread.  Arkansas currently ranks 14th in BPI compared to Illinois’ 30th.  The Razorbacks started this year as a team, many expected to be a high-ranked team all season.  They have had disappointments over the course of the year, but this team is still extremely talented.

Arkansas is led by a plethora of scorers with five guys averaging double digits.  Ricky Council IV leads the way but this team will be reliant as well on Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black.  Freshman standout Jordan Walsh is also a player to keep an eye on.  A McDonald’s All-American recruit last year who averages just 7 points a game.  If he could go over his season average, it could help the  Razorbacks get the scoring they need.

Illinois is led by Terrence Shannon Jr. with approximately 17 PPG but only has one other player in Matthew Mayer who averages double digits in scorers.  The lack of scorers on the Illini team will cause issues for them.  Especially going up against a great defensive team in Arkansas.  Illinois is great defensively as well, but I think the Razorbacks’ fast pace will be able to get them scoring in transition.

Illinois vs. Arkansas Betting Odds

Arkansas is entering as slight favorites as the lower seed in this game.  They are moneyline odds favorites of -135 so not by much.  The spread line is placed at -2.5 which makes sense as both teams are defense-first squads.  The over/under is currently placed at 145.  This seems a little high for both team’s averages falling closer to 140.  I’d most likely go with the under here.  ESPN Analytics currently gives Arkansas a 57.8% chance to win.  In Kenpom’s analytical rankings, the Razorbacks rank 20th with the Fighting Illini ranked at 33rd.  An important seeding factor to remember, the 9th seed has won 11 out of the last 16 matchups against the 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Key Matchup

Ricky Council IV vs. Terrence Shannon Jr.

The biggest matchup will be between each team’s two lead guards and scorers.  Both average above 15 points in scoring.  The biggest difference maker in this game will be which of these two can get their shots to fall.  Council IV might have the advantage if the Razorbacks are able to move efficiently in the transition.  Arkansas has good perimeter defense and fast defenders that could slow down Shannon Jr. and give Arkansas the advantage on the offensive side it needs.

Jack is a Hoosier by birth and Hoosier by alum. Full of hot takes but sharper predictions. Residing now in the Chicago area. When he's not chowing down on deep dish pizza and Italian beef, he's watching and betting sports. Junkie for everything CBB, NBA, NFL, CFB, and MLB. Here to feed you a system to follow that might even be better than the one Tom Brady was gifted his whole career.

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